Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spaced Repetition for Learning Concepts


Spaced Repetition for Learning Concepts:
A new neurobiological foundation for research and a computer-aided means of performing said research.
“Practice makes perfect.” “Use it or lose it.” These are expressions students hear often from parents and teachers attempting to persuade those students to do their homework or practice the piano regularly. It is common knowledge that reading or studying some topic once and then putting it away till test time is a recipe for failure. This is why teachers assign homework. Many even claim the test itself is a learning tool. But are these notions myths, based on centuries old traditions, or do they really work. If so, under what conditions? And how can study time be optimized so that students learn as much as possible in as little time as possible?
Ever since the late 1800s researchers have been trying to determine the answer to that question. Since that time. literally hundreds of studies have been performed verifying and reverifying a principle that has come to be known alternatively as “spaced repetition,” “distributed practice,” the “spacing effect,” and other similar terms. In this paper the term “spaced repetition” (SR) shall be used to name the phenomenon wherein study “items with repetitions that are separated by time or other events are remembered better than items with repetitions that are massed, occurring in immediate succession” (Toppino & Schneider, 1999, p. 1071).  For a phenomenon “many researchers would consider […] to be among the best established phenomena in the area of learning and memory (e.g.,Dempster, 1988)(Toppino & Schneider, 1999, p. 1071), it is interesting that “neither American classrooms nor American textbooks appear to implement spaced reviews in any systematic way” (Dempster, 1988, p. 627).
By ignoring this research, I believe American educators are missing out on an important learning tool. Further, I claim that SR (spaced repetition) can be applied to the learning of complicated concepts – what Sarah D. Mackay Austin (1921) called “logical memory” and Danielle Mazur (2003) called “abstract learning” – in addition to the simple rote memorization of what I call “factoids,” simple word-pair or question-answer associations. Though extensive research – over the past 130 years – has confirmed over and over again that SR works, researchers have had difficulty in developing a reliable theory as to why or how it works (Dempster, 1988, p. 633; Mazur, 2003, pp. 3, 5). In addition there are several legitimate criticisms as to the past and current methods of research as well as the practical application of spaced repetition in the classroom (Dempster, 1988, p. 627). One such criticism is – despite the vast volumes of research – very little of it has involved much more than the memorization of text. Only a very few studies have been conducted examining the potential of SR for learning concepts.  As memory is very likely an evolved trait (Nairne, Thompson, & Pandeirada, 2007, p. 271),  it just doesn’t make sense that there would have been evolutionary pressure to evolve memory for word-pairs but not for general concepts. In fact, it is reasonable to assume just the opposite. Therefore, I believe – as does Mazur (2003, p. 22) – that more research needs to be done in the application of SR for learning concepts.
By examining recent – and not so recent – research revealing how neurons in the brain actually form memories, I hope to provide a new foundation for SR research. Finally, by introducing a new computer-based system which can facilitate the learning of complex concepts while, at the same time, collecting the research data necessary to fine tune the theory and its application, I hope to finally bring 130 years of research to fruition and usher in a new era of education.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Searching for terms in a paper book.

Perhaps others have already thought of this idea but here goes anyway. If you have a paper version of a book and wish you could search for terms and phrases within that book, don't forget that you may be able to find the book in Google Books and search for the terms there. You may or may not be able to copy text out of what Google calls the "Preview" but you will at least be able to search for specific terms. Unfortunately, not all books have previews but it is at least worth a try.


The contents of this post is Copyright © 2010 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bogus "education" sites.

I have recently read a post on the GOOD website about a site called Einzstien that purports to "Make Learning Free." In my opinion this site is nothing but a sham. It does nothing but list and poorly organize standard university course web pages. It seems to me that the creator, a former lawyer, simply decided that he could make money by creating this web site and then pawning it off as some kind of innovation in education.

Update 5/26/2011: Unfortunately, GOOD.is seems to have lost a lot of the comments from older articles so my rant is no longer available... Darn!


The contents of this post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Organizing a Digital Library

A Method and System for Organizing and Storing Digital Books on a Computer Hard Drive Using the Library of Congress Classification System
or How to Find Your Books.

As more and more researchers are obtaining and storing more and more of their documents in digital form on their computers, the question arises as to how to organize all these documents. This post addresses the issue of storing digital books on a standard computer hard drive. In devising this system I had several goals:

  • Documents should be stored as files in regular file system instead of in a proprietary database. This is so links and shortcuts can be created to point to the documents from just about any software that allows linking to files.
  • Consistent/persistent location so links to and between files don't get broken.
  • Easy to follow rules for naming folders and files.
  • Relatively easy to find what you have without using a database program.
  • File name and folder structure based on Library of Congress (LOC) classification system so no one has to make up their own classification system.
  • The path to the file should read almost exactly as if you are reading the actual call number to make it quick and easy to find your books.

I am intentionally avoiding technical "Library Science" terminology as much as possible within this document so it will be accessible to regular people who may not be familiar with Library of Congress terms. Besides, I am not sure I have all of them exactly correct anyway. I am still learning myself.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Can Google Cure our Poverty Ills?

Here is an assignment I just wrote for my English 300 class. Yes, I currently live in Google, KS. Oddly I hadn't taken the whole thing very seriously until I wrote this paper. Funny how writing an English paper can make you think, even at my age. I think I am going to try to get it published in the school newspaper or maybe the local paper.


The Google Cure

Here on Washburn campus, it seems the internet is all around us. We've got complete Wi-Fi coverage in all the buildings and many of us have 3G wireless internet on our cell phones for when we walk outside. One may be prompted to ask, “So what's the big deal about this Google thing?” As many of you may know, for the month of March we no longer live in Topeka, KS. We now live in Google, KS (Hrenchir, 2010).  At least till April Fool's Day. So, then, what is the big deal with this new ultra-high-speed internet service Google may or may not offer in our fair city? Why should any of us care? We've already got all the internet we could want and then some. Well, some of us care because of all the other people in town it could affect. You see, not everyone has access to the internet, especially not at a speed that is actually useful. This disparity has become known as the “Digital Divide.”  Bharat Mehra, an assistant professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee who specializes in “the use of information and communication technologies to enable and empower communities to meet their needs and goals” (Mehra, n.d.) defines the “Digital Divide” as “the troubling gap between those who use […] the Internet and those who do not” (Mehra, Merkel, & Bishop, 2004, p. 782).  In a report he co-wrote in 2001, Mehra went even further to say, “The digital divide is really a socioeconomic, cultural, and power divide that exists at both local and global levels” (Bishop, Bazzell, Mehra, & Smith, 2001). This troubling gap, as you will see, can have profound effects.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Recent experiences with backup software.

I just finished an arduous search for inexpensive or free backup software. I finally settled on Macrium Reflect to take disk images of my system drive and GFI Backup for my data. At least for now. In the process of this search I wasted three days trying to get the Acronis software to work in any form of a reliable manner. I ultimately failed. You can see more information here.

Some notes:
Macrium reflect uses a sector-based imaging method. This is fine, unless you want to take incremental images and you also defragment your hard drive at any time. Defragmenting the hard drive changes almost all the segments on the disk and therefore an "incremental" image will be almost as large as the original image. However, this means that you now have to keep both images around if you want to be able to restore to the later version. Do this a few more times and you are keeping four and five times the original drive size in backups just to have the latest version available. In the end, this makes the incremental imaging feature utterly useless, because any sane computer user defragments their hard drive on a regular basis. Therefore, you can use the free version of Macrium Reflect and not really be missing anything from the full version, as far as imaging goes.

I do not like the file backup of Macrium Reflect because it does not store any history of what files were backed up. Or, at least, it does not make that history available to the users if it is stored. The only way to find out if a file is in a backup is to mount the backup as a drive letter and look yourself. If you don't find the file in one backup then you have to mount another backup and look in there. It is a terribly tedious process. Finally, the Macrium Reflect backup files are in a proprietary format so the only way to get anything out of them is to use the same program you created them with.

GFI Backup is available in a free version that is pretty darned good. They currently don't offer a paid for version but I assume they will eventually. Or maybe they did in the past. I don't know. It keeps a history and you can check to see if the file you have on the drive has changed since you made a backup. It will also give you an estimate of how large the next incremental backup would be so you can wait to backup until you have a certain number of changed files. (You would have to keep checking yourself as it is not automatic. However, it would keep you from making a large quantity of very small backups if it isn't necessary.) Unfortunately, the history does not allow you to see all the different versions of the backed up files.


The contents of this post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why I will never buy Acronis software, and neither should you.

This is a kind of review of Acronis Backup and Security 2010 as well as Acronis True Image Home 2010. I fought with that software for about three days straight. I kept giving it the benefit of the doubt because it has a lot of features that other drive imaging products don't have. However, I finally reached my breaking point. Here is the last post I made on their forum. If you read it you will see, if you are contemplating purchasing that software, you should look elsewhere:

Installing Acronis Backup and Security without the antivirus and firewall parts.

Complete instructions on how to install "Acronis Backup and Security 2010" bundle without the anti-virus and firewall components: leaving only the "Acronis True Image Home 2010" component.

Note: it is not technically possible install only the ATI part. You must install the whole deal and then uninstall the ABS2010 part.

After fighting with this software for almost three solid days, I have come to the conclusion that it is not really worth the trouble. It has also been made clear to me that once the license term of the Backup and Security 2010 product comes to an end that the True Image Home 2010 will cease to be fully functional. It will continue to restore backups but will not make new backups until you renew your subscription. However, I went to a lot of trouble to figure out this procedure and I figure it might be useful for someone so I am posting it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Windows 7 to Windows XP: Peer-toPeer Networking

Below is a list of instructions for getting Windows 7 and Windows XP to communicate via peer-to-peer networking. I have compiled them from notes and forum posts I have found all over the internet. None of the posts I have found were anywhere as complete as these so I thought these might be helpful for someone.

Note: a large part of these notes use a concise GUI notation system called GCGUINS™ that I have devised for brevity.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Scooters in the Snow

OK, so I don't ride my scooter in the snow. I used to be able to when I had a much lighter scooter. But that is another story.

This is just a story about how darned reliable my 2007 Genuine Buddy 125 scooter is. As everyone in the U.S. knows, the Midwest has been gripped in a winter freeze for a few weeks. I live in an apartment so my scooter has been sitting in the parking lot buried in a snow drift a couple of feet deep for a couple of weeks at least. I loose track of things like that.

Anyway, I just decided to try to start it up. After a few tries it started up pretty well.

Now, I do have to say that the battery is not the original battery. The original battery did not last past the first winter. So this is also a testament to the quality of the batteries available at Batteries+. When the original started giving out I went down to my local Batteries+ and bought the most expensive battery they had that would fit my scooter. It was just under $90 but it was worth it. I have never had a problem since.

So, if you are looking for a scooter, a Genuine Buddy 125 is a pretty good deal and a really good scooter. I love mine. However you may have to spend about $100 more for a new battery soon, as the battery is not covered in the warranty. And, no, I am not being paid to say any of this. I was just so happy that my scooter started up so easily that I had to come in and blog about it. Even though I know that only a couple of people in the world are ever going to see this.


The contents of this post is Copyright © 2009 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.